By Matthew Henry
Getting ready for an open garden is like eating an elephant: achievable if approached one bite at a time.
Clear Springs Opening 2022
For many people a garden is a sanctuary, a place of repose and respite in a busy, chaotic world. I feel that now as I sit here in the stillness in my office. The window is open and I hear the rosellas cracking the seeds that they discover in the fluffy lucky dip of the spent artichoke flowers. This peace and quiet comes through no effort on my part. I am far from town and the gravel road is not busy. But the rosellas are here because of the garden and the trees we have planted over the past twenty two years. Which gives a deep satisfaction to this already sweet moment.
Why am I opening my garden? I ask myself every day. I walk through the garden and see mostly what still needs to be done before the various pairs of eyes of the beloved general public arrive. I wonder if that is the reason; to have a deadline for the innumerable chores that ordinarily I am happy enough to leave to later on? To put off. To procrastinate.
And surely there is more to it than that.
I have opened my garden once before in the spring of 2007 in the old Open Garden Scheme; it was a great pleasure to talk plants and gardens with the visitors and show them around. Maybe you were there?
I almost opened it twice. I had prepared the garden through the beastly, dry summer of 2008/2009 and even though I winced as plants browned off on those awful, hot days, I was looking forward to welcoming another round of guests.
The Delburn fires flared up just days beforehand, roads were blocked and the opening was cancelled. It was a minor disappointment compared to all those who lost their lives and homes that year. But It has sat there as some unfinished business that I needed to revisit, thankfully in a much milder and more pleasant year.
It was a different garden then: so youthful. Now fourteen years later. it is developing some maturity and that in itself is cause for celebrating with an opening. After years of Covid lockdowns too, I think ‘opening’ is a state that many are embracing even with the ongoing care and restrictions required to keep us safe.
And part of that desire to be open is to rebuild some of the community I have lost over the last decade or so flitting between Melbourne and here. Talking to other gardeners in the local area who deal with the same climate and growing conditions and extreme weather events is one of life’s great pleasures. This region (the picturesque Strzelecki Ranges) is such a magnificent place to make a garden, but I feel we are a little underrepresented in the world of open gardens, I felt I could do something to redress the imbalance a little.
So much for WHY I am doing it, this diatribe is supposed to be about HOW I am getting ready. I won’t pretend that I am doing it all on my own. The kindness of my partner and my family and friends means that there is usually another pair of hands I can call on to help with a new planting, renovating an old bed or as we did on the weekend, utilising age-old technology to move a couple of cast iron troughs around the garden. I have even been known to employ a few of my gardening colleagues to help with particularly big jobs.
Nevertheless, the point of my garden has always been about pushing the boundaries of the concept of working on a human scale. What can one or two men look after in terms of scope and size in a garden? Over the years I have made concessions. I have foregone the old push mower (how can I forget that second hand Victa held together with wire and baling twine) and now use a ride-on. I have battery operated power tools now as well rather than the simple hand tools I started out with.
Even with these aids, the size of the garden is far too big for it to be looking immaculate all the time (although we are pulling out all the stops to be ready on April 30th). I usually prioritise the areas closest to the house and the further away from the house, particularly the bee orchard and the wombat garden are usually looking the wildest. This though is often an asset in itself, offering a different texture and sense of place in what is certainly a garden of ‘rooms’ or discrete spaces.
The ethos of the garden has been to use what we have been able to recover from the site, scrounge from neighbouring farms, or rescue from skips and bins. Old fence posts, recycled bricks, fieldstones, rusty wire and other objects are all fair game. To begin with most of the plants were divisions from friends’ gardens, cuttings from roadside plants and seed sown treasures. Even some of the trees towering above us now were vulnerable little cuttings and seedlings twenty years ago. Now that I am gardening professionally as well, I have greater access to all that the nursery industry has to offer and am loving the treasures i can procure at wholesale prices. But still the generosity of friends is a stalwart part of introducing new varieties into the garden.
Getting ready for an open garden is like eating an elephant: achievable if approached one bite at a time. Every day there are little things I can do. This ongoing and pleasant pressure is amazingly creative. So many new ideas are popping up for how I can show the place off to its best. Not all of them are feasible in the time remaining, but I am enjoying the flow of the process all the same.